Probe Faults System for Monitoring U.S. Borders

John Mintz, Washington Post, Apr. 11

A critical network of cameras and sensors installed for the U.S. Border Patrol along the Mexican and Canadian borders has been hobbled for years by defective equipment that was poorly installed, and by lax oversight by government officials who failed to properly supervise the project’s contractor, according to government reports and public and industry officials.

The problems with the $239 million Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System (ISIS), which U.S. officials call crucial to defending the country against terrorist infiltrators, are under investigation by the inspector general of the General Services Administration.

That probe, into whether government officials allowed the contractor to cut corners on the project and receive huge overcharges during its eight-year lifetime, could lead to administrative or criminal charges, the officials said. Perhaps tens of millions of dollars were wasted, the GSA suggested.

Many irregularities were documented in a scathing GSA inspector general’s report, released in December, which cited millions of dollars in potential overcharges by the contractor, International Microwave Corp. (IMC), as well as the record of U.S. officials paying for work never performed.

The investigation focuses in part on IMC’s employment of the daughter of Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), a former Border Patrol official and key backer of the system of 12,000 sensors and several hundred cameras installed for the Border Patrol between 1998 and last year, officials said. There is no indication that Reyes took part in any impropriety, they said.

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Many of the ISIS cameras, which are placed on 50- to 80-foot poles, break down frequently. The wiring of the electronic system on the Canadian border with Washington is so slapdash that cameras there often jerk randomly in warm weather.

“The contractor sold us a bill of goods, and no one in the Border Patrol and INS was watching,” said Carey James, the Border Patrol chief in Washington state until 2001. “All these failures placed Americans in danger.”

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